I waited for you. Hour after hour, day after day. We spent more time together than this. Usually. Finally, I heard a knock on my door. Relief, then trepidation. Tentatively, I turned the brass knob and opened it. Relief again. “Hello,” you said. The door flung open. A tight hug. A joke. A smile. Shutting the door behind me, we walked from the porch and the street and the civilization towards the ocean.
She calmed me. Her waves, her color, her tides. You sat on the sand, as gray as the sky yet still as tragically beautiful as ever. With a hand clenching the earth below you, and teeth barred into a smile, you said, “life’s a little too gray for me today”. I laughed.
That was my first mistake.
We returned and watched the sunset through my dirty kitchen windows. You said goodbye. I smiled and waved until the door closed. After a few minutes of starting at the spot where you used to stand, I went to bed. Said my goodnight to the moon and her stars. Buried my head in dreams and today’s memories. Your words were left on my nightstand. Alone. Forgotten.
The sun rose. A new day. I grabbed for the phone, dialed your number by heart. It rang. One. Twice. Three times. Your voice clicked, but it was nothing more than a recording. I frowned but carried on.
That was my second mistake.
The day came, the day went. Business kept me from calling, as more and more responsibilities dropped onto my heavy shoulders. No worries. I burned through them all, for I was a fire girl. You were my hollow boy. We were an unlikely pair. Sometimes my flames charred your flesh. Sometimes you extinguished my blaze. Most days, we found a balance. A thin wire we walked on precariously, together.
Another night passed, and this time my dreams were tinged with your grimace and the smell of the salty ocean brine. When I awoke, there were no new messages. Concern gnawed at my edges, distorting my disposition. I called you. No answer. Again. No answer. Again. Again. Again. Finally, in a final act of desperation, your mother. She hadn’t heard from you either. With dread looming over my head and licking at my flames, I took a day off and walked to your home.
It was a little dinky suburb, just like mine. Same paint, same cookie-cutter format. I jumped up the steps, two by two. Knocked twice. Waited for five minutes. No answer. Finally, I sunk down onto your welcome mat – the bristles tickled my legs – and I waited.
I went out, every morning, and waited for you. Some days, I slept on the old wood made of fireflies and questions and music. Others, I glanced at your home before traveling to work. Every day, I called you. One. Two. Occasionally eight times. Once, two days ago, twenty times. The same voicemail, every time. “Hello. I’m not home right now. Leave a message.” Eventually, I stopped calling and just waited. It’s okay. Despite my fire, I was patient. There wasn’t anyone else I’d rather wait for.
That was my third, and final, mistake.
Finally, someone came. Relief, then trepidation. I looked up. Disappointment. Two men, two blue uniforms, two badges. “Ma’am? Do you know this residence?” one asked. Slowly, shaking, I stood. The dread that sat in my stomach for the last thirty-three days still ate at my mind. My flames burned blue, simmering instead of their usual passionate red. Blue as the police uniform.
“What happened?” I asked, and one gave me a gaze full of unwanted pity. I didn’t need comfort, or reassurance. I just wanted to know what happened. Where were you? It had been too long. Were you hurt? Vacationing in a far-off land? Taken? Pulling a joke? Despite your hollow inside, you still loved humor. And the sea. Almost as much as me.
“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said. His mouth continued to move, but I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t. My knees buckled and I collapsed onto the welcome mat, one that you would never wipe your feet against again. The two officers stood over me, two giants. Two reapers, with only useless words and condolences.
Your funeral was small. Me, your parents, your little brother. Everyone else wanted nothing to do with it. They said they found the gun in a different place. Of course you couldn’t do it here, I thought. Not with all the memories. Not with me around. I thought of the last time I saw you, on the beach, one hand clenching the sand while your face contorted into a smile unnaturally. “Life’s a little too gray today.” My first indication, and with every second I felt your death haunt me. The body in the casket wasn’t yours. It was a husked out shell, a hollow boy more hollow than you. You still whispered those words in my ear, over and over, until I wanted to scream.
I waited at your porch again. Lied against the welcome mat. The bristles no longer hurt because there was nothing to feel. Once my cheek pressed against the worn wooden door, I cried. Cried for your absence. For my absence. For your family. Most of all, I cried because your heart was broken and you never told me. Now, you would never tell me anything again. A small verse came from my lips, words I must’ve muttered before or scratched into my journal or the neighbor’s tree.
“You are my hollow boy
And I am your fire girl
Together, we’re broken
Inside a tiny fragile world.”
The words repeated over and over, raking its claws in my heart and picking up every buried emotion with it. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. Hollow boy fire girl broken fragile world. Boy girl broken world. Boy girl broken world.
My fire roared for the first time in months. It destroyed everything around it. Devoured your home. Our home. Our memories. Our lifetime. Charred the welcome mat. Blackened the wooden door. Melted the brass doorknob. Finally, it burnt out. And so did I.
“You were my hollow boy
And I was your fire girl
Life was a little too gray today
So we both left this world.”
This is the tragic story of two friends who couldn’t live without the other, a realization made only after the death of one. I’ve never experienced such loss, but it’s always been a great fear of mine that someone I loved should decide that their life wasn’t worth living. I hoped to capture this fear, and its reality, in the most artistic way possible while still writing a short story. For anyone who may relate to this story, whether they’ve been the fire girl or survived being the hollow boy, you have my condolences.